How to Future-Proof Your Career in a Digital Economy

Steve Cadigan

December 01, 2017

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The digitization taking place across industries in the United States is creating a seismic shift in how employers are thinking about their future staff requirements and how they recruit. This change is reshaping more than companies' bottom lines—it's reshaping how they build and grow their teams.

As technology impacts the workplace at an accelerating rate, business professionals, regardless of their industry, must keep up with the pace by adapting and expanding their existing skillset in order to be considered valuable candidates or employees.

We can see the evidence of this shift in the birth of dozens of new jobs and job titles in recent years, like the chief marketing technologist (CMT), whose job is equal parts strategist, creative director, technology leader, and teacher. The digital storyteller, or chief digital officer (CMO), is another new role that has recently evolved. The role is due largely to the need to collaborate across marketing, sales, publishing development, and in-house IP teams to foster digital thinking through a creative and distributional context. Lastly, the explosive demand for the new role of UX/UI designers (user experience and user interface, respectively) is more proof of the creation of jobs, as in this case companies need to ensure that the experiences their consumers have on their websites are simple, intuitive, and fun.

In a world where the skills we need to succeed are rapidly evolving, professionals are left to ask themselves, "What should I be learning, and what skills should I develop to ‘future-proof' my career?"

At a high level, the answer to this question is simple: to stay relevant in the digital economy, professionals must demonstrate the capability to constantly learn. More powerful than the possession of a laundry list of skills is the proof that you can learn new skills and adapt to solve complex and novel problems. Being able to demonstrate the ability to learn and adapt to changing environments is paramount for professionals today. It's impossible to have all the skills you need, but it is possible to prove you can learn new skills.

Versatility is key today and will be in the future. Wherever you are in your career and whatever industry you are working in, being mindful of the job market and the evolution of work is essential. Jobs are no longer static. Work evolves faster than ever, and to be the most prepared candidate possible, you must emphasize keeping ahead through your learning and a strong network. A loaded resume can get your foot through any door, but an ability to quickly learn new skills and apply them to your area of expertise will make you an indispensable employee.

There is no better illustration of the need to change and grow with technology than that of the phone industry. What started off as a wired, stationary device capable of only making and receiving calls has evolved into a mobile personal computer with what seems like limitless and ever-evolving capabilities. Anyone who has worked in the telephone industry for longer than a year has undoubtedly experienced profound shifts, and those with a decade or more of experience must hardly recognize their industry. In fact, nobody even refers to phone companies as "phone companies" anymore but rather as "mobile carriers" or even "media companies." The critical skills phone companies need to remain competitive have taken significant turns several times in the past few decades and show no signs of slowing down.

You Don't Just Deal with Change—You Enjoy it

Employers aren't looking for candidates that just "do well" with sudden change. They want to build a team made up of creative individuals who welcome change, and even more so, anticipate it, drive it, and relish it. If you're interviewing for a job, consider giving an example of a time in your career when you had to quickly change direction on an assignment or a project with only a moment's notice. Or even better, think of a time you saw a need to change, did the research, gathered the support, and led the change. Trust me; you will stand out. I guarantee that most of you have done this in your current and prior jobs. Spend the time reflecting and identifying these moments. It'll be worth the investment.

Your Network is Part of Your Value Proposition

While it's impossible to know what skills you may need in the future, it's good to have a network that you can tap into. This will help you understand a new challenge at work is invaluable and will help support your learning of new skills and abilities.

Organizations today are looking for candidates who bring a strong network with them. They know these people will be more likely to solve problems if they have a great network of resources they can call on to solve problems or help them fill other key job openings in the company.

Invest the time necessary to nurture your network and help it solve problems so that you can leverage it when necessary.

You Find Value in Continued Education

The only way to truly ride the wave of digitization is to take advantage of career development and educational opportunities to keep your skills sharp and relevant. Asking your employer about continued educational opportunities not only shows you're committed to furthering yourself professionally, but also reinforces that you anticipate your job and industry evolving in the future and want to be prepared. Ask about mentorship programs and career development seminars. Chances are, if employers are committed to developing an inspired organization, they will have these options available. If they don't offer any of these programs, then start one.

As the professional landscape continues to evolve at an increasingly rapid pace, individuals who model their versatility, invest in their ongoing development and nurture their networks will have a competitive advantage in the digital economy.

I am the co-founder of ISDI, which is the only University in the US to offer a Master's Degree in Internet Business. I have a passion for helping professionals and organizations realize their full potential. Having worked in the HR field for almost 30 years in global roles within six different industries, I have built an understanding of what it takes to win. My career path includes roles at ESPRIT, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, AMD, Cisco Systems, PMC-Sierra, Electronic Arts and LinkedIn. While at LinkedIn as the top Talent Exec from 2009-2012 I helped guide the company's growth from 400 to 4,000 employees while building one of the most revered cultures in the tech industry. Today I write, speak, teach and advise professionals and organizations around the world on how to succeed in the digital economy. My clients include Twitter, Square, Andreessen Horowitz, GoPro, and Google.

Originally published on Forbes.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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